Schools for subdivisions Builders' plan to meet future growth needs closer scrutiny.

April 08, 1996

THERE'S NO SUCH thing as a free lunch and there's no such thing as a free school. Carroll County officials will be well advised to keep that in mind as they explore a vague offer from home builders to construct new schools and additions to meet the needs of expanded development.

The proposal comes just as the county is weighing an interim growth control law, to give it breathing room to revamp a 30-year-old master plan for long-term land-use decisions. Assuring that adequate public facilities are in place to handle the strains of population growth is the central goal of that strategy.

Developers in many counties have donated land, money and facilities to the public as a condition of approval of contested subdivisions. That's nothing new.

What the Carroll idea would do is to link residential growth with meeting the most costly, immediate construction need of the county: more school space. That's an idea worth considering, as the county commissioners and planning officials look to the future.

But it's only a part of the permitted development-adequate facilities equation. Adequate facilities required by the planning commission include roads that can handle the projected traffic flow, water and sewerage, fire and emergency coverage, as well as schools to hold the expected additional enrollments.

Impact fees alone won't meet the facilities demands of new home developments. Doubled last year, the $4,500 fees provide only about a quarter of the approved capital budget (which is still short of demonstrable county needs.) Borrowing and tax revenues are still the principal sources of public construction funds. So more help from subdivision builders would be welcome, at the right price.

With elementary schools costing $10 million and high schools twice that amount, don't expect the development community to magnanimously pick up the full bill, even with high-density housing approval. In fact, the Carroll builders talked about adding modular classrooms and enlarging existing schools, to offset their developments' marginal increase in enrollment. That's a less attractive inducement. The industry's offer is, however, something county officials could build on as they develop Carroll's future land-use patterns.

Pub Date: 4/08/96

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